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The Overstory

The Overstory

Richard Powers (Penguin Random House, William Heinemann)

Nine strangers, each in different ways, become summoned by trees, brought together in a last stand to save the continent’s few remaining acres of virgin forest.

The Overstory unfolds in concentric rings of interlocking fable, ranging from antebellum New York to the late-twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond, revealing a world alongside our own – vast, slow, resourceful, magnificently inventive and almost invisible to us. This is the story of a handful of people who learn how to see that world, and who are drawn up into its unfolding catastrophe.

Judge Leanne Shapton comments:

The Overstory, a novel about trees and people who understand them, is the eco-epic of the year and perhaps the decade. Unlike the Lorax, who spoke for the trees, Richard Powers prefers to let them do their own talking. Instead of a middle distance or landscape, he offers portraits: a gallery of species — Chestnut, Mulberry, Banyan, Redwood — placing his human characters correctly in scale with that royalty. The trees tell of cellular ancestry and transmission, cycles that take place along spans of time we cannot imagine, though Powers can and does. Nine powerfully written, interlinked stories play out in the understory. Along the way there are stirring, lyrical paragraphs on love, photography, the culture of ancient China, game code, science, and maybe most impressively, faith, rendered without sanctimony or reprimand. By the end, the book's voices, human and arboreal, echo unforgettably.

Accolades